While most of the Cincinnati Bengals’ roster is pretty well filled out, there is one position we should be concerned with when considering depth.
When talking about a deep position group, those are ones where a number of players can step in, and keep the unit functioning at a high level if a starter (or multiple starters) goes down. A unit may feature the best player on the team, but if there are no good players behind him, that’s not a very deep group.
Just about one week into training camp, offensive tackle seems to be the least deep position on the roster, which was anticipated ever since the Bengals let Andrew Whitworth walk away in free agency.
Cedric Ogbuehi is now the starting left tackle after spending last season struggling at right tackle and Jake Fisher is the starting right tackle after he was inconsistent at that same position in limited time last season. To round out the group, the Bengals brought back veteran Eric Winston and Andre Smith off the free agent market, though, the intention is for Smith to play right guard, not his former right tackle position.
Since Ogbuehi and Fisher were drafted in 2015, the plan has been for these two young players to assume starting roles. Ogbuehi’s offseason work has been very well publicized. He has been participating in MMA-style training and working on his conditioning.
“If you can go five three-minute rounds with one minute off in between, you can go for eight seconds in the NFL,” said Jay Glazer of FOX Sports, who also owns Unbreakable Camp, an MMA-style workout facility, where Ogbuehi spent time this offseason. “It’s demoralizing what we do. It’s so tough physically that it’s the mental game that’s so important. Getting the crap knocked out you by short old guys. Some of these guys leave here after two days, four days. But Ced’s been there for a month. I’m proud of him.”
It is great the Ogbuehi is working up his confidence again after a very rough 2016, but we won’t actually know how much this training has helped until he gets out on the field in the preseason and even more so, in the regular season.
Fisher also needs to show he can be consistent. Last season he was brought in to spell Ogbuehi when he was struggling, and he showed flashes of what he could be. But, at times he would make simple mistakes that would result in an easy pressure for the defense. Maybe he just needed a few seasons to really grasp what is expected of him as a tackle in this offense, or maybe he just needed to bulk up a bit, but there is still plenty of time to turn his career around. Additionally, this is his first year heading into the season as the anticipated starter, so he’s been able to take all of the first team reps and really learn the role he’s expected to play.
Still it isn’t only the fact that these two are such big question marks heading into next season that makes this such a weak position. It’s that their backups aren’t reassuring either.
Let’s say both Ogbuehi and Fisher play at a high level. If either of them go down, there could be a big drop off. Winston played sparingly at right tackle last season, but didn’t fair all that well at the position; he was serviceable, but not much more.
There’s also Smith, but he’s struggled to stay healthy during the last few seasons. Last year, the Vikings put him on Injured Reserve following a Week 4 game against the Giants. His play barely got him the starting job prior to that, so viewing him as a viable plan B isn’t very realistic.
If Ogbuehi and/or Fisher struggle during the season, the Bengals won’t have many options as far as replacing them. All of Cincinnati’s eggs are in this seemingly poorly constructed basket, and the coaches are banking on it holding together well enough for the team to get by.